Many Aspergers and high-functioning autistic employees experience work-related stress. The possible stressors include: social, task-related, and environmental. Let’s look at each of these in turn.
Many employees with Aspergers experience some level of anxiety in social situations they encounter on the job. For example:
• Employers— A good experience with a caring employer can cause a lasting impression on an employee’s life. A bad experience can also make a lasting impression! While many employers do their best to provide their workers with a positive workplace experience by coaching and advising them on how to perform at their peak, many people with Aspergers are better suited for certain coaching styles and work-related tasks. If there's a mismatch between employer and employee in this regard, the “Aspie” can form lasting negative feelings about work and his/her own abilities.
• Workplace Bullies— Many places of business have anti-bullying policies. Though bullying does still happen in the workplace even with these policies, help is generally more easily accessible than it was years ago. The bad news is that workplace bullying has gone high-tech and may not necessarily happen on the job-site. There are some people who use the Internet (e.g., Facebook) to target a fellow employee that they have a “beef” with. One reason for this is that they don't have to face their target, so it's easier to shed any empathy that they may otherwise feel in face-to-face interactions.
• Workplace Ostracization— There are many reported cases in which the individual with Aspergers didn’t necessarily get bullied in the fullest sense of the term, but he or she - for whatever reason - has a “bad” reputation in the workplace (possibly for being too quirky or self-absorbed in the eyes of others). As a result, fellow employees purposefully ignore and reject the Aspie (a form of bullying with no repercussions).
The following are some of the main sources of task-related stress for Aspergers employees:
• Work That's Too Easy— Just as it can be stressful to handle a heavy and challenging workload, some Aspergers employees can experience stress from work that isn't difficult enough. Unfortunately, many Aspies are given job assignments that are significantly beneath their potential and capabilities. As a result, they run the risk of developing a cynical, bitter attitude about their employment, which can lead to poor performance, mask the root of the difficulty, and perpetuate the problem.
• Task Anxiety— Many of us experience work-related anxiety when we are moved to a different department or are given a new job assignment. Unfortunately, change is very difficult for people with Aspergers, as they prefer to maintain a consistent routine. Studies show that greater levels of task anxiety hinder performance on the job.
Certain aspects of an Aspergers employee’s environment can also cause anxiety that can spill over and affect performance. The following are some stressors that Aspies may not realize are impacting them:
• Lack of Sleep— Many Aspies report having sleep problems (often related to chronic anxiety issues). As schedules pack up with overtime, extracurricular activities, and family time, they often get less sleep than they need. Operating under a sleep deficit doesn’t just mean drowsiness, it also leads to lack of coordination, moodiness, poor cognitive-functioning, and other negative effects.
• Noise Pollution— Many people with Aspergers have sensory sensitivities. Noise pollution in the workplace has been shown to cause stress that impacts some employees’ performance on the job.
• Poor Diet— With the surplus of convenience food and the time constraints many people experience these days, the average person’s diet has more sugar and less nutritious content than is recommended. This often leads to mood swings, lack of energy, and other negative effects that impact anxiety levels. This is magnified in the individual who is already experiencing undue stress in other areas of life.
Signs of workplace anxiety include:
• Excessive shyness
• Frequently calling in sick
• Negative attitude
• Anger control problems
• Feeling unsafe in the workplace
• Fear of getting laid off or fired
• Excessive worry and fear about job performance
• Difficulty going to sleep
• Loss of appetite
• Increased appetite
• Excessive alcohol consumption
• Drug use
You can’t eliminate or escape anxiety that may occur in the workplace. It’s a fact of modern life. Nonetheless, workplace anxiety is a serious subject. More than one third of American workers experience chronic work-related stress, which is costing American businesses billions of dollars a year in medical bills and lost work hours.
Here are a few simple, yet highly effective suggestions for those who may be experiencing workplace anxiety:
- Schedule quality social time. Each week, schedule some time with a friend to just hang out and laugh.
- Meditate regularly. Even 5 minutes a day can help lower blood pressure, and can help you control the thoughts that trigger anxiety.
- Learn to say “no.” Being overworked and over-committed leads to anxiety. Don’t feel obligated to say “yes” to everything for fear you won’t be liked.
- Reconnect with your spiritual roots. When you’re chronically stressed, it’s easy to forget about your place in the bigger picture. Prayer, meditation, chanting, or other rituals are great ways to get perspective on what’s stressing you – and relieve that pressure.
- Get enough sleep. Work-related anxiety is magnified when you’re sleep-deprived and foggy-headed.
- Get creative. Carve out some time to tap into your inner child (e.g., cooking dinner, handwriting a card to a friend, creating a vision board, etc.).
- Exercise regularly. Physical activity releases stress-relieving chemicals.
- Eat whole foods. Processed food can cause you to feel even more stressed than you already are.
- Cultivate a grateful attitude. You can take the sting out of negative events by focusing on what’s good in your life.
- Engage in appropriate sexual activity. Sex increases the production of oxytocin (often referred to as the “love hormone”). Before achieving an orgasm, oxytocin levels in the brain surge and are accompanied by a release of endorphins.
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